By Susan Caplan McCarthy
My parents held onto everything. My mother collected bags of used dryer sheets because my father had heard that they were good for polishing the car. He never used them, but this didn’t stop my mother from adding them to the bags beside the dryer.
My mother purchased shoes she wore, maybe, once. My father purchased three tool boxes and spread one tool box’s worth of stuff among the three.
Toys my brother and I played with were stored for the grandchildren my parents never had. Clothing – brand new, hand-me-downs, frayed items, as well as regular wardrobe pieces – were jumbled together in drawers, cabinets, and closets.
When I had to pack clothing for my father when he was moved into assisted living, I had no clue what to send with him. When he was in the house, he wore threadbare items; when he went out grocery shopping or to a doctor’s appointment, he wore the same polo shirt and work pants. Packing what I found in his closet, I had the suspicion that most of the items were things he’d taken from his father’s apartment.
Although some of the items my parents kept were odd, mom and dad were trapped by common thoughts around stuff that a lot of people believe.
1. I Might Need It Someday
Under what conditions do you think you may need the item? How often do you think that you should hold onto something ‘just in case’ but never really carry the thought through to consider under what conditions you’d use the item again? If you think the kids or grandkids could use stuff for craft projects, then start a bin for that use; once the bin is full, that’s it until it gets used.
If you think you might need items for entertaining guests, consider your current entertaining agenda and what your specific goal is for having guests over to your home in the next year. And, if you think you’ll fit into a clothing item in the future, consider the age of the item and if you’d truly find it a part of a fashionable outfit. Honestly, if I lost all the weight I want to lose, I’m going shopping for a new wardrobe because I’m not going without cookies for a year just, so I can wear a shirt that’s been in the back of my closet for twenty years.
2. I Want to Do that Activity (again)
Aspirational clutter consists of the things we hoped to do (or, perhaps, do again). Maybe you signed up for a class, bought the supplies, went to class, and then figured you’d continue with this new interest or hobby beyond the class. But, you didn’t. Or, perhaps you thought that buying something that you felt would improve your life in some way would be an incentive to use the item. However, neither spending money nor owning something is incentive enough to use it.
3. It Was Free … or a Really Good Deal
When you buy an item on sale you aren’t saving money, you’re spending it. If you wouldn’t pay full price for an item, question whether it’s the item or the deal that you’re really after. Sometimes, buying something at a steep discount and feeling the accompanying thrill is what you wanted. The item is meaningless.
In hindsight, it’s harsh to realize that you spent money on something you aren’t going to use and may not even like. Get rid of the item and remember this as a lesson the next time you find yourself holding something that’s eighty-percent off the regular price.
And freebies, usually decorated with the logo of the company handing out the item, are advertisements. If you use the item, then it helps you. If you aren’t currently using the freebie, then consider it like a television commercial or the advertisement in a magazine, don’t give getting rid of it a second thought.
4. It Was a Gift
When someone hands you a gift and you accept it, the gift has done its job. It expresses that someone thought of you. If you truly enjoy the item, then keep it and use it or display it – not to show the gift giver that you have the item but so that you can enjoy using it or looking at it, making it a part of your life.
5. This Is a Family Heirloom
Yes, your mother, grandfather, or great-uncle once owned the item. You own a lot of things; does that mean they should be held onto for decades just because? What is the story behind the heirloom? Why has your family felt it important to hold onto these items?
I’m not suggesting heirlooms shouldn’t be important to your family. However, if you have boxes and boxes of stuff that belonged to your parents or grandparents, is all of it significant? And, how are you showing that the item is important to you and your family by leaving the stuff in boxes? Cherish the items that represent a memory you have of your relative or that represent a hobby or interest they possessed. An item that means little to you may spark someone else’s memories; pass the item along.
How to Clear this Clutter
The strongest way to clear clutter that, for whatever reason, you feel you should hold onto, is to identify the goals you have for your life and your home. You can’t really answer questions like, “Do I need this?” or “Is this useful?” if you aren’t clear on your goals. “Is this item useful to help me reach the goals I have for my life?” Totally different question.
What if your goal is to be organized? I want you to consider that being organized isn’t really your goal. Instead, decluttering is a way to clear the path, so you have the time and space to work on your goals and do something meaningful to you. But you get caught up in the brambles – thoughts and feelings that have you holding onto things that you know really aren’t serving your life goals.
You can take some time to consider what your life would look like if your home was already decluttered – how would you spend your days? If you’d like some guidance, I’ve created a self-directed program for individuals who get stuck when decluttering, Clear Your Clutter and Create Space for Your Life. While answering journal questions, assessing how your home makes you feel and how you’d like to feel when in your home, and prioritizing activities so you can make time to declutter, you focus on the vision you have for the life you want to live.
And here’s the magic – the skills that help you declutter your home will also be there to help you work toward achieving your life goals – identifying the things and activities that are most important to you. Maybe you’re thinking of starting a business, retiring to have more time for travel or to spend with loved ones, writing a novel or your memoir, volunteering your skills, training for a new job, or some other dream. When you clear the thoughts and feelings clinging to your stuff, you’ll know your real reason for decluttering and you create space for your life.
To learn more about how you can Clear Your Clutter and Create Space for Your Life, click here.
I help people focus on what's important to them by guiding them through clearing clutter and distractions from their lives. I teach decluttering and organizing skills through articles; books; courses; speaking engagements; as well as virtual coaching sessions.